Opinion: On This International Women’s Day, Look at Your Local Government

March 8, 2019, marks International Women’s Day, a day when people around the world celebrate the accomplishments of women and raise awareness of the inequalities that still exist on the basis of gender. One area of public life where this inequality is still glaringly apparent is government. Simply put, we need more women serving in public office.

The evidence shows that not only do women elected leaders introduce more legislation that benefits women and families than their male counterparts, but they actually introduce more legislation overall. The average congresswoman passes twice as many bills as the average congressman. Women are also more effective at advocating for funding resources for their constituents. Between 1984 and 2004, women in Congress secured on average 9 percent more funds for their districts (an average of $49 million per district) than their male counterparts. Countless studies have shown that women’s tendency to compromise and collaborate leads them to get more work done.

We are all familiar with the lack of women’s representation at the federal level: the U.S. Senate is 75 percent men; the U.S. House is 76.6 percent men; and we have yet to elect a woman president. Here in Maryland, the numbers are just as grim. Currently, all 10 members of our federal delegation are men. Although we have more women in the state legislature than ever before, the 15 women state senators and 72 women state delegates only make up 38.3 percent of the General Assembly. Additionally, we have never elected a woman governor.

This disparity deepens at the local level in Baltimore. In a city where females make up 53 percent of the population, the Baltimore City Council is 80 percent men. Only three women — Sharon Green Middleton (District 6), Mary Pat Clarke (District 14) and Shannon Sneed (District 13) — sit on the 15-member council. The economic, social and health disparities that exist between men and women in Baltimore indicate a need for more women in government leadership.

Most policymakers would agree that good policy is made when the voices of those affected by it are included, but that’s not possible if women do not have equal seats at the table. Take the living wage, for example. Women make up the majority (55 percent) of minimum wage workers. Women in the workplace face a steep pay equity gap. Men in Baltimore make on average 1.29 times what women make for the same work in the same job. These economic struggles are further exacerbated when you consider that women are often the primary or sole caregivers for children and seniors.

Paris Bienert

Or consider affordable housing. Women are disproportionately affected by Baltimore’s housing crisis. As caregivers, women often have to provide housing for more people and therefore have larger housing needs, but have less income to pay for that housing. Even though single female homeowners outnumber single male homeowners by more than 2 to 1 in Baltimore, the Abell Foundation reports that 59 percent of female-headed households in Baltimore are considered to be rent-burdened (meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing). What’s worse, more than 65 percent of female-headed households with children are rent-burdened. This explains why approximately 79 percent of renters who show up to Rent Court for landlord-tenant cases in Baltimore are women.

On these issues and more, our male-dominated legislatures at all three levels have fallen short. Women need action now. If elected leaders address these issues, everyone will benefit. None of us can be truly represented if any one of us does not have an equal seat at the table. I would argue that the unique hardships Baltimore women experience give them a different perspective that enables them to effectively advocate for all of Baltimore. We need to have more women’s voices at the table.

If we want to see an increase of women elected to government positions, we need to encourage women to run for office. We need to donate to women candidates. We need to vote for women on the ballot. When women run and win, we all win.

The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #BalanceForBetter, which highlights the work that needs to be done to build a gender-balanced world. Imagine what Baltimore would look like if our city council was gender-balanced. I’m running to help make that vision a reality.

–Paris Bienert

 The writer is the chairwoman of the Democratic State Central Committee for the 46th District and a candidate for Baltimore City Council in the 1st District.

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